ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Walking the floor boards with worry and praying for a miracle: it’s a sadly repeated ritual in Newfoundland where the sea gives life and, just as swiftly, takes it away.
“We live that life and that’s who we are,” said Johanna Ryan Guy, as the search for two of four men who went missing from a capsized fishing boat continued Thursday near St. John’s.
Bodies of the other two men were recovered after the seven-metre craft was reported overturned Tuesday night near Cape Spear. All were from the close community of Shea Heights, where grieving residents say it’s beyond tragic that three generations of one family were on that boat.
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax said Thursday evening that after “exhaustive” efforts to find the two unaccounted for crew members, involving several coast guard ships and military aircraft, search efforts were being turned over to the RCMP.
A team of investigators with the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is now looking into the deadly incident.
As in all maritime communities, dangers in the waters off Newfoundland are real and unpredictable.
“These are the risks that we take every other day,” said Ryan Guy. “It never lessens anything that happens. It really, really doesn’t.
“We’re so close-knit, and thank God for that, because the community of Shea Heights – just like the community of St. Brendan’s – will hold it together. They will, as best they can.”
Her two brothers, Joe and Dave Ryan, died Sept. 19, 2004 when their almost 20-metre fishing vessel Ryan’s Commander capsized after slamming into rocks near Cape Bonavista in eastern Newfoundland.
Tuesday marked the 12th anniversary of their last departure from home in nearby St. Brendan’s before their final trip ended in disaster.
The TSB found the vessel’s stability was affected by a flawed design, creating problems that weren’t fully understood by the owners, its builders or Transport Canada.
Accidents happen quickly and often without warning, said Ryan Guy, whose heart goes out to the loved ones of the men lost this week.
“We all feel for the family. I know people felt for us as well,” she said. “This could have been anybody in Newfoundland.”
Fish, Food and Allied Workers-Unifor, the union representing harvesters and plant workers in the province, offered its condolences in a statement Thursday.
“This latest tragedy is a heart-breaking reminder of how dangerous the profession of fishing is and how unforgiving the sea from which so many earn their living can be.”
The TSB, in its recent report into three crab fishing deaths in 2015 on Placentia Bay, said there were 189 deaths involving commercial fishing vessels between 2000 and 2015 in Canada – 31 of them in Newfoundland and Labrador alone.
“The number of accidents involving loss of life on fishing vessels remains too high,” it said.
Provincial politicians of all stripes joined forces four years ago to protest when the former Conservative government under Stephen Harper shuttered the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John’s. Ottawa at the time defended the move, saying technology allowed for money-saving consolidation of services without cutting safety.
The Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly said it will restore the sub-centre.
Merv Wiseman, a retired maritime search and rescue co-ordinator in St. John’s, said he was again assured last month by Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc that the promise will be kept.
“We operated from a collaborative operations centre,” Wiseman said Thursday in an interview.
“St. John’s traffic, ice operations and coast guard emergency operations – we were all in the very same room. That made a big difference, and that’s not there now. We’re missing that.”
Ryan Guy, a vocal advocate for improved search and rescue services, said it’s not a matter of if that help will be needed, but when.
“We live surrounded by the ocean. For many of us, including for my family still, the ocean provides us with a livelihood.”